December 10, 2006

The difference between England and Australia

The final day of the second Ashes Test proved that the Australian way of playing is superior to the English

England's inability to take wickets cost them dearly at Adelaide © Getty Images

If ever confirmation was needed that the Australian way of playing cricket is superior to the English method, the final day of the second Ashes Test provided the ultimate proof.

Australia have a strong belief in winning and the players to make it happen, while England is uncertain about when to seek victory and is further handicapped by poor selection.

While Australia were still desperately searching for wickets on the fifth morning, England were largely batting with survival on their mind. If you look at Test match records, games are won either by so many runs or wickets and that is why both are critical to the ultimate result. The moment you stop trying your darnedest to accumulate either, an opponent senses an opportunity and you don't need to offer a bowler of Shane Warne's class a second invitation.

England will claim that it's hard to score runs off Warne when he is bowling well but alternatively, if you don't he's going to take wickets cheaply. When runs are scored from his bowling at least the wickets cost him and by attacking sensibly England made Warne pay dearly for his first innings victim. As late as the fourth evening when Warne bowled a couple of spitting and spinning deliveries, both Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell reacted positively by leaving their crease and also sweeping to score runs. Why then did they only add seven runs in 43 minutes on the fifth morning when Warne's bowling was of similar quality?

As well as being a game of making runs and taking wickets cricket is also about strategy and psychology

Ricky Ponting said after Australia's miraculous victory that their aim on the fifth morning was to stop England scoring. If a team is not aware of their opponents' tactics or doesn't respond to them positively then they're in trouble but when their approach complements the opposition's aims it's no surprise that a loss resulted. On a couple of occasions when they were well behind in the match, Australian players showed by their actions the intention was still to win the match. Despite being nearly one hundred runs in front on the last morning with nine wickets in hand England never displayed a winning attitude.

If England knew Australia were trying to contain on the fifth morning why wasn't Kevin Pietersen sent in at the fall of Strauss' wicket? That way England could have sent a strong message they were still trying to win the match and Ponting would have had to deploy more run saving fielders, thereby leaving less occupying catching positions.

As well as being a game of making runs and taking wickets cricket is also about strategy and psychology; no good being skilled at the first two and inept at the second pair.

However, it is difficult for England to be totally positive about winning when they select both their wicketkeeper and spinner for their batting. These are the preference of the coach and not only is Duncan Fletcher's strategy flawed it also indicates to Australia he's concerned about his top six batsmen not making enough runs.

Both Australia and England have a coach but the difference is Ponting runs the team and with the help of senior players formulates the strategy. I'm not so sure about England.

'Shane Warne gives Australia another way of winning matches even when his first innings analysis is a deflating 1 for 167' © Getty Images

This could be where England are missing Michael Vaughan. In 2005 he was a captain in charge while Andrew Flintoff is a leader feeling his way. England won the Ashes by attacking Australia but this time Vaughan isn't around to ensure the same approach is taken. Perhaps Fletcher by virtue of being coach when the Ashes were regained is asserting more control in Vaughan's absence.

Another area where Australia hold sway over England is wrist-spin. For decades England has eschewed leg-spin despite the importance of wrist-spin on flat Australian pitches when the ball isn't swinging. Warne gives Australia another way of winning matches even when his first innings analysis is a deflating 1 for 167.

Like all very good teams this Australian side always believe they can win. When West Indies was dominating world cricket, their fast bowler Andy Roberts used to say; "No matter what the opposition bowl us out for we'll bowl them out for less."

That is the critical issue; taking the twenty wickets required to win, cheaper than the opposition. There is no way England can achieve this aim while they select players in wicket-taking roles for their batting and can't match Australia's positive approach.